The Story of the Rebbe Rashab’s Passing – Part 1

The story of the Rebbe Rashab’s passing, and the months preceding and following it, was recorded in the sefer Ashkavta D’Rebbe and was translated for the first time by Yeshiva Gedolah Melbourne in honor of 100 years of Beis Nissan.

The story of the Rebbe Rashab’s passing, and the months preceding and following it, was recorded in the sefer Ashkavta D’Rebbe and was translated for the first time by Yeshiva Gedolah Melbourne in honor of 100 years of Beis Nissan.

[Note: This is an excerpt of a much larger sefer to be released soon in honor of the 100th yahrtzeit.]

Written by Rabbi Moshe Dovber Rivkin, a tomim who was the Rebbe’s personal attendant during the time leading up to the histalkus, who recorded in great detail the Rebbe Rashab’s conduct and sayings.

To download the English booklet, click here.

To download the Hebrew original, click here.



With gratitude to Hashem, we present before you a free English translation[1] of sections of the Sefer, “Ashkavta De’Rebbi” “The Story of the Histalkus of the Rebbe Rashab.” This translation is being published in connection with Beis Nissan, 5780, commemorating one hundred years since the Histalkus of the Rebbe Rashab.

About the author:

Harav Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin was born to R’ Ben Tzion and Esther Rivkin on 21 Kislev 5650/1891, in Zintsi, Ukraine. R’ Ben Tzion was the Rav of the town and was considered an expert in Shas Bavli, Yerushalmi, Shulchan Aruch and Sifrei Kabbalah. Many Gedolim corresponded with him in halachah issues.

From a very young age, Moshe Dov Ber was known to be a prodigy. He began learning Gemara at age 5. In his early years, he learned in Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in Lubavitch, under the close tutelage of the famed Mashpia, Reb Michoel Blinner. After his studies, he married Nacha Heber of Kalisch, daughter of the chossid Reb Yaakov Tuvya Heber. He later followed the Rashab to Rostov where he learned with him privately and remained near the Rashab until the Histalkus.

In the year 5684/1924, he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael where he was appointed Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Emes in Yerusholayim. He was Rosh Yeshiva there for 4 years and following which, he was invited to join the faculty of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in America.

During his time at Torah Vodaath, he gave smicha to hundreds of talmidim. He had close personal relationships with the Gedolim of the age including R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky, R’ Yitzchak Hutner, R’Yosef Ber Soloveitchik and others. Through his years, Rabbi Rivkin published extensively in Torah journals and also collected a selection of his chidushim in his Sefer, Teferes Tzion.

In his later years, Rabbi Rivkin would often attend Farbrengens of our Rebbe and is clearly visible sitting behind the Rebbe in many videos. Rabbi Rivkin passed away 18 Cheshvan 5737/1976 and is buried in the Lubavitch section of the cemetery on Har Hazesim.

About the Sefer:

Rabbi Rivkin wrote this Sefer narrating us through his own experiences. He was 28 years old at the time of the story. As mentioned, Rabbi Rivkin was a “Ben Bayis” in the house of the Rebbe Rashab, a close confidant of the Frierdiker Rebbe and a devout chossid. He wrote this diary in the summer of 5680/1920, a few months following the events. The Sefer was published many years later [5712/1952][2], with Rabbi Rivkin’s lengthy and extensive footnotes. Rabbi Rivkin was an exceptional Ga’on and Talmid Chochom, and these footnotes are an in depth halachic and Kabbalistic analysis of the Rebbe Rashab’s every move. In this translation we have included only the sections of the Sefer that describe the story of the Histalkus excluding the footnotes.

A general note on perspective:

Being that much of the content of this Sefer discusses the condition of the Rebbe Rashab’s physical health, one can mistakenly understand the events in a “coarse/crude” manner.

It is important to keep in mind the following: In a Maamor printed in Sefer HaMaamorim Melukat Aleph, “Atah Echad” Chapter 7, the Rebbe writes as follows: “The imprisonment of the Frierdiker Rebbe was with his consent. Every Tzadik controls the physicality of his life, and every physical occurrence is by his consent.”

It is clearly evident and obvious from this Maamor that the Tzadik agrees to the heavenly decree to impose sickness or suffering upon him, i.e. the Tzadik controls these events.

Additionally, the Tzadik is Bedugmah Shel Maalah, meaning, all that transpires to the Tzadik in our physical world is reflective of the events occurring in the spiritual realms of Seder Hishtalshelus and the Sefiros.

The Sefer before us was written by a chossid observing the events with what we call, “fleshly eyes,” i.e. the chassidim watching the events only saw the external physicality of the story. Chassidim over the generations always knew that what we see occurring to the Rebbe is just the tip of the iceberg and the events are not to be gauged by the regular measures of human beings. Therefore, as we read through the events which superficially appear to have human properties, we must remember that our understanding and view of the matter barely scratches the surface of the true reality.

For ease of reading, please note the following references:

“The Rebbe” refers to the Rebbe Rashab.

“The Rebbetzin” refers to the Rebbe Rashab’s wife, Rebbetzin Shternah Sarah

“The Rayatz” refers to the Frierdiker Rebbe.

“The Rashag” refers to Reb Shmaryahu Gurary. At the time of this story he was but a bochur, he would later be the son-in-law of the Rayatz.

The times of day written are all approximate.

Many thanks to Hatomim Hashliach Shmuel Kesselman for the translation and editing, (Comments, suggestions, and questions, can be emailed HERE.) Many thanks to Hatmimim Yechezkel Lever, Menachem Mendel Perlow and Dovid Perlow for the assistance and editing.

Note regarding the footnotes: Throughout this translation there are footnotes with additional information. They have been added by the translator for the purpose of furthering clarity.

Additionally, a chossid by the name of R’ Avrohom Boruch Pevzner mentioned in this Sefer as being the one charged with preparing wheat for Matza, also wrote brief snippets of a diary documenting the story of the Rashab’s Histalkus. His notes are printed in the SeferShemuos Vesipurim ” by Reb Refoel Kahn. Reb Refoel writes that he attained a copy of this diary from his brother-in-law, Reb Hillel Pevzner, the son of R’ Avrohom Boruch Pevzner. [The brief diary is also printed in Hebrew in the Sefer, “HaMashpia Shelo Chozar,” a biography of Reb Avrohom Boruch].

It is interesting that when comparing the 2 diaries, although the gist of the story is almost identical, there are a few small differences. We have included a few of those discrepancies in the footnotes and clearly indicated the source.

May it be the will of Hashem that very soon, we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “And those that lie in the dust will awaken and celebrate.” With the arrival of Moshiach, when we will be reunited with our Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab and with all the Rebbe’im, may it be speedily in our days.


Rostov, Thursday Night, 15 Adar.

Following the Purim Farbrengen, which took place in the Rebbe’s home, the Rebbe returned to his room and sat down to rest. Yankel Landau[3] – a young student who had a close bond with the Rebbe and spent much time in the Rebbe’s home – followed the Rebbe into his room. Beaming with inspiration and excitement gleaned from the fervor of the Farbrengen, he said to the Rebbe, “On this night we experienced great happiness. How lucky we are to have celebrated with the Rebbe, an event no one had dreamed would occur. May Hashem grant us the opportunity to celebrate next Purim in a similar manner, with the Rebbe, back in Lubavitch.” The Rebbe did not respond. R’ Yankel Landau repeated the sentiment, and again the Rebbe did not respond. Meanwhile, the Rebbe stood up and walked into a second room nearby. R’ Yankel Landau followed him and repeated himself a third time. Following this, the Rebbe responded, “May Hashem bless us to be near one another, spiritually.”

Reb Yankel Landau exited the Rebbe’s chamber and excitedly recounted his discussion with the Rebbe. He supposed, based on the implication of the Rebbe’s words, “near one another spiritually,” that the Rebbe planned to journey overseas within the year. (Being that, at that time, many prominent chassidim suggested that the Rebbe re-establish his court outside of Russia[4].)

No one entertained the thought of the tragedy that would take place barely two and a half weeks later.

Motzo’ey Shabbos, 17 Adar.

A few minutes after Havdolah, I stood outside the Rebbe’s room. I had a pressing personal issue regarding which I sought his advice. Together with me stood R’ Yisroel “Neveler” Levin and the Rashag, they too, had urgent issues they wished to discuss with the Rebbe. We waited in the antechamber near the door to the Rebbe’s room, hoping that the Rebbe would walk out for a moment and we could approach. Soon, a member of the Rebbe’s family knocked on the door to the Rebbe’s room and entered, he too, sought the advice of the Rebbe. Almost immediately, the door reopened and he walked out. He turned to us and said, “You cannot meet with the Rebbe tonight. I could not ask him anything. He is preoccupied, sitting and writing with intense concentration and involvement.”

Nevertheless, we continued waiting outside his room, perhaps he would walk out for a moment and we would be able to converse with him. Soon enough, the Rebbe did indeed walk out of his room. His face was burning with a fierce expression, and he appeared weighed down by many thoughts. He saw us and motioned that he could not meet with us. When he reentered his room a few minutes later, he closed the door and locked it from the inside.

We despaired from any chance of seeing him that night and understandably, we were disappointed. Slowly, we parted ways and returned to our homes. We were most surprised by his response that night. Regularly, the Rebbe would receive visits with a glowing and joyful countenance, yet that night his response was cold and uninviting.

Yet, none of us even entertained the thought that tragedy would soon strike, and that very night the Rebbe had sat and written his last will and testament. Following the Histalkus, we discovered this fact. The Rebbe spent that night as well as the next few days writing his will. He instructed that many Seforim from the large library in Moscow be brought to his disposal, books of halachah and Kabbalah. Many of these Seforim were then quoted and referenced in the lengthy halachic and Kabbalistic discussion, regarding the recital of Kaddish, included in the will. Within a few days, the Rebbe finished writing the will and placed it in the drawer in his desk. Clearly with the intention, that when his drawers would be opened following his Histalkus, the will would be obviously found. So it was, a short while after the Histalkus, the drawer was opened, and the will was found.

Thursday Night, 22 Adar.

That night, I found myself in the Rebbe’s home. By the time I had finished tending to the issue that brought me there, it was already past curfew. For in those days, the government forbade walking in the streets after 9:00 PM. I had no choice but to sleep in one of the rooms on the ground floor of the Rebbe’s house.

That night, the Rebbe did not eat dinner because he felt unwell and a slight stomach ache. (In truth, he had begun to feel unwell on Wednesday but had not told anyone.)

10:00 PM[5]: The Rebbe descended to the ground floor to inquire regarding the health of his daughter-in-law, the Rebbetzin Nechomah Dinah, who at that time was suffering from spotted typhus[6]. He appeared overly weak and exceptionally tired. He sat in the dining-room for 15 minutes, and then went upstairs. He went to sleep at approximately 12:00 AM. Following this, the Rayatz and his family went to sleep, except for his daughter, Mushka[7], who remained awake the entire night at her mother’s bedside. I too retired in one of the rooms on the ground floor.

2:00 AM: I awoke, hearing a commotion. I immediately got up, dressed and walked out of my room. As I walked out, I noticed Mushka scurrying about, carrying a cup of milk. When I asked her what was happening and who the milk was for, she responded that her grandfather, the Rebbe, felt sick. His wife, Rebbetzin Shternah Sarah, had measured his temperature at 37.5c. I panicked, ran upstairs and the Rebbetzin repeated what Mushka had told me. Nevertheless, I soon went to sleep and slept soundly.

Friday, 22 Adar.

In the morning, the Rebbe’s temperature measured a worrisome 38.5c. The family asked him if he would like Dr. Landa, an expert doctor and a close confidant of the Rebbe’s family, to be summoned. The Rebbe refused and remained in bed for a while, suffering from an aching head. Following midday, the Rebbetzin and the Rayatz begged the Rebbe to allow the doctor to be called. He said, “Nu, if you want him to come, let him come.” At about 3:00 PM, Dr. Landa arrived. He examined the Rebbe and announced that the sickness is a light case of influenza[8] and a slight stomach ache. His diagnosis calmed us all very much[9].

Friday Night, 23 Adar.

After Shabbos began, the Rebbe lay down on his bed and slept for a short while[10]. When he awoke, he went into his office and davened Kabbolas Shabbos and Maariv. The table, that the Rebbe was wont to sit at while reciting Chassidus was set for the Shabbos meal. The Rebbe recited Kiddush in an undertone, ate a piece of bread, some soup and a baked apple with sugar. Following which, he bentched, said Krias Shema and returned to his bed. The night passed uneventfully.

Shabbos Morning, 23 Adar.

Shabbos morning, the Rebbe awoke and entered his office for davening as usual. Following Birchas Hashachar the Rebbe had to return to his bed, the headache and fever had intensified. Dr. Landa again came for visitation and repeated his diagnosis of the previous day. At the appointed time for Shachris, the Minyan took place in the dining room, and for Kerias HaTorah the Minyan moved into the Rebbe’s office. He sat, wearing his silk Shabbos clothes albeit without a Talis, in a small room leading off his office with the door slightly ajar. Mussaf took place in the office also, and following the tefilos, all the chassidim went home confident that Hashem would heal and strengthen the Rebbe. I too went home and only returned later that evening. Upon my return, I was informed that the Rebbe had felt sick and rested for most of the day.

Motzo’ey Shabbos, 24 Adar.

Following Havdolah, the Rebbe asked for a cigar. He smoked, and suddenly felt very unwell and almost fainted. We sprayed cold water on his face and he came back to himself. (From that moment on, I did not budge from his side for even a second. From that moment on, I remained in his presence until his holy coffin was laid to rest.) Dr. Landa was immediately summoned, and he calmed us. Dr. Landa brought with him another doctor, who was hired to stay in the house throughout the night. The Rebbe was not informed that another doctor was in the house. The second doctor sat in the dining room all night, ready to be called should the need arise. But thank G-d, the night passed uneventfully.

Unfortunately, the Rebbe’s general weakness deteriorated, and he was too weak to stand or even sit without help. During the following week, the doctors, the Rayatz and I would assist the Rebbe when he wanted to sit up and stand. I would also assist the Rebbe when he wanted to wash Nettilas Yodayim. The first few days of his illness, he would sit up in his bed and I would wash his hands. Towards the end of the week however, he would remain lying down and I would wash his hands in that manner.

Sunday, 24 Adar.

Dr. Landa returned and examined the Rebbe. After a thorough examination, he declared aloud, so that the Rebbe would hear, “It appears that the Rebbe’s spleen is inflamed.” Dr. Landa walked out of the Rebbe’s bedroom and into the Rebbe’s office, to have a word with the Rebbetzin and the Rayatz. I remained in the Rebbe’s bedroom. The Rebbe turned to me and said, “Nu, what did Dr. Landa say? Is it not typhus?” “Heaven forfend,” I cried out, “the doctor believes it is typhoid[11], nothing more.” He asked again, “Is it not typhus?” “No! no!” I exclaimed.

The doctor reentered the room to take leave of the Rebbe and receive a blessing. The Rebbe asked him again, “Have I contracted typhus?” The doctor affirmed that it was not typhus, and he told the Rebbe not to worry. The doctor then went on his way. The Rebbe said he wished to daven Shachris, and the Rayatz and I assisted him to do so.

On that day, Dr. Lazinski of the city of Babroisk arrived to treat the Rebbe. I introduced him to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe remained under his care until his final moments. [The doctors were professionals, not committed chassidim, with limited understanding of the concept of a Rebbe. Nevertheless, they felt a deep affection for the Rebbe, and they stood before him with the fear and trepidation common amongst old-time chassidim. They worked day and night, with total selflessness and devotion, and when the Histalkus did occur, they all cried bitterly.]

The Rebbe instructed me to give over a message to Hatomim Avrohom Boruch Pevzner. I was to tell him that the Rebbe charged him with the job of grinding wheat to bake Shmurah Matza, being that in the past he had been in charge of the project. Additionally, the Rebbe wished to be informed about all the details of the Matza making process.

3:00 PM: The Rebbe requested that we aid him as he wished to daven Mincha. The Rayatz (who would not vacate his father’s side for even a moment, day and night) and I waded in to provide assistance.

I washed the Rebbe’s hands, and we wound his Gartel around him. We laid Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefilin on the Rebbe, and he finished Shachris without using a Siddur. He continued davening, reciting many indeterminable tefilos, followed by Korbonos, Ashrei and Mincha. We removed the Tefilin, and the Rebbe rested.

Over the entire course of his illness, it was clearly evident that the Rebbe was deep in thought. His face held a grim expression, and he rarely smiled. It seemed as if he was mourning over the heavenly decree placed upon the chassidim, that were to lose their crown and glory, the Rebbe.

In hindsight, over the course of the winter 5780, the Rebbe gave clues and indications to the Rayatz and the Rebbetzin vis a vis his own Histalkus. Yet, even in our wildest dreams, we did not interpret these messages from the Rebbe to mean that the Histalkus was coming. We did not imagine that we would be struck with such a fierce blow, ‘Woe unto us! May Hashem have mercy on us, chassidim, amongst the entire Jewish nation and rebuild our broken fortress.’

In my estimation, the Rebbe did not want the Histalkus to come as a result of typhus, and it became obvious as the illness progressed, that indeed it was not typhus. The illness sapped the Rebbe’s strength with alarming speed. The doctors themselves were unable to determine the root of the sickness, or even what it was called. Prof. Zavadski claimed that it was potentially typhus, but Dr. Landa – who was indeed an expert – was willing to swear that it was not.

10:00 PM: The Rebbe davened Maariv, and at 12:00 AM he recited Shema and went to sleep. Dr. Lazinski, the Rayatz and I remained awake throughout the night. The Rebbe’s sleep was fitful and inconstant.

To be continued.

[1] As is the way with translation, much of the beauty and richness of the original is lost, hence, readers are encouraged to look into the original Hebrew/Yiddish edition. The translation used in this print is a liberal one, focusing on flow and clarity.

[2] In the year 5695/1935, Reb Chatche Feigin asked Rabbi Rivkin for permission to print this sefer in the Hatomim journal. Rabbi Rivkin refused, explaining that he had previously shown the diary to the Rayatz and it had pained the Rayatz greatly. However in the year 5712/1952, following the Histalkus of the Rayatz in 5710/1950, the Sefer was printed at the behest of our Rebbe.

[3] Who would go on to become the Rav in Bnei Brak.

[4] The Rebbe had originally consented to travel abroad and Reb Shmuel Gurary actually purchased boat fare for himself and the Rebbe to travel to Turkey. However, a mere few days after the tickets were purchased the Rebbe decided not to travel. (A Chassidisher Derher, Elul 5779)

[5] According to the record of Reb Avrohom Boruch Poizner: This occurred at 11:00 PM and the Rebbe remained downstairs for ½ an hour, not 15 minutes.

[6] A spotted fever is a type of tick-borne disease that presents on the skin. They are all caused by bacteria of the genus Rickettsia. Typhus is a group of similar diseases also caused by Rickettsia bacteria, but spotted fevers and typhus are different clinical entities.

[7] Who later became the wife of our Rebbe

[8] A highly contagious but not dangerous viral infection of the respiratory passages causing fever, severe aching, and catarrh, and often occurring in epidemics

[9] According to the record of Reb Avrohom Boruch Poizner: This visit of Dr. Landa occured on Shabbos and not on Friday.

[10] This was not an unusual occurrence and it was not due to weakness. The Rebbe would regularly fall asleep at the time of the onset of shabbos. This “nap” is a Kabbalistic custom practiced by many Tzadikim including the Alter Rebbe; see Toras Shalom pg. 13.

[11] An infectious, non-life-threatening, bacterial fever with an eruption of red spots on the chest and abdomen, and severe intestinal irritation.

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